Genital herpes is a condition caused by a sexually transmitted infection. The infection spreads in both men and women. It is estimated that more than 50 million Americans have this condition, and approximately one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 are infected. Anyone who believes that they might be infected should see a qualified dermatologist or another medical professional for testing and possible treatment.
Causes of Genital Herpes
The condition is linked to two herpes simplex viruses. The HSV-1 virus, which causes cold sores or fever blisters to form around the oral cavity, can result in a genital herpes outbreak if an infected person’s mouth comes in contact with another person’s genitals. However, the most common way to catch genital herpes is from the HSV-2 virus, which is transmitted through sexual contact or any type of skin-to-skin contact. The HSV-2 virus is highly contagious and can be passed regardless of whether or not an open sore is present. It is considered to be almost impossible to contract genital herpes from toilets, towels or other objects that have come into contact with an infected person because the virus dies quickly outside the body.
Although some people have no symptoms or only experience mild symptoms, there are some common telltale signs of genital herpes. Many people begin experiencing itching or pain in the infected areas within two to ten days after contracting the virus. Other common symptoms include the presence of small red bumps or blisters and sores that make it painful to urinate. Ulcers can also start to form as blisters ooze pus or bleed. Recurring outbreaks are common. Some people also experience flu-like symptoms such as fevers, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes in the groin.
Areas of the Body Where Outbreaks Commonly Occur
People with genital herpes usually notice outbreaks on parts of the body such as the penis, vagina and scrotum. The cervix as well as the area around the urethra can also become infected. The virus can even cause outbreaks on the thighs.
Additional Risk Factors
Both women and men with multiple sex partners are particularly susceptible to this condition and should be especially cautious. Approximately one in four men who have sex with men (MSM) have genital herpes, so gay and bisexual men are at an increased risk. A dermatologist, dermatology provider or medical professional can offer further advice on how to prevent the virus from spreading.
People who contract genital herpes are also at risk for spreading the virus to other parts of the body. Touching a sore and then rubbing or scratching another part of the body may cause sores and blisters to form on areas like the buttocks, anus or mouth. The virus can even be spread to the eyes.